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Nicola Sturgeon accused of ‘manufacturing’ rail crisis as unions turn on SNP

·3-min read
Nicola Sturgeon - Jacquelyn Martin /AP
Nicola Sturgeon - Jacquelyn Martin /AP

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of "manufacturing" cuts to 700 train services a day amid a row with unions that risks bringing Scotland to a halt.

The drivers' union Aslef hit out at the SNP for refusing to discuss a pay deal ahead of industrial action that has forced operator Scotrail to introduce a drastically scaled-down timetable.

Kevin Lindsay, the union's Scottish head, said: “I actually think this is manufactured by the Scottish government for some reason.

“Scotrail are not coming to the negotiating table because they don’t have the authority from the Scottish government

“I’ve represented train drivers for 30 years. I’ve never known this sort of behaviour. I’m trying to negotiate a settlement but there is no settlement because nobody will talk to you.”

ScotRail was brought into public ownership by Ms Sturgeon last month following a slump in commuters in the wake of Covid. Services were previously run by private operators National Express, FirstGroup and Abellio.

Aslef has a reputation for being more conciliatory when discussing pay deals compared with its more militant counterpart the RMT, which represents train guards and station staff.

Mr Lindsay said: “Aslef in Scotland have never had a dispute in the last 20 years.

“There is something that has fundamentally changed here.”

Drivers are ready – but have no trains to drive

Drivers have been offered a 2.2pc pay rise plus an additional 5pc increase based on a profit-share arrangement.

Nicola Sturgeon caved into the RMT union weeks before Glasgow hosted the Cop26 climate change summit by handing them a 4.7pc increase - well ahead of the inflation rate at the time of 3.2pc.

UK-wide inflation hit 9pc in April, its highest rate since Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister 40 years ago.

Mr Lindsay said: “This is having a huge effect on the Scottish economy. Even more bizarre, they are telling us they are short of drivers.

“They are 20pc short of where they should be, yet they cut the service by 30pc. At this moment in time, there are drivers sitting in mess rooms in every major station across Scotland, ready and willing to drive trains. They just don’t have any trains to drive.”

ScotRail's service delivery director David Simpson told BBC Scotland: "I hope we have this in place for as short a time as possible because we recognise the disruption it is causing to people.

"We need to sit down and talk against the background where everyone is clear that we need to compromise. The demands of 10, 11pc are just not sustainable in the current economic climate of the railway. We need to find a way around that."
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth said: "I would encourage both partners to sit round the table today.

"We need to see negotiations move on and that means compromise on both sides.”

A spokesman for the operator said that its representatives will be meeting with Aslef tomorrow.

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